THE GOCHISO GOURMET: The jack of all beans

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When you think of legumes or the humble bean, which variety is the most versatile? Pinto beans can be cooked then consumed as is or mashed for the perfect refried bean. Kidney beans are a must in Hawai‘i-style chili and they can also be mashed for a delicious spread. Garbanzos or chickpeas can be consumed in a variety of dishes after soaking and boiling, fried as a crunchy snack or mashed and combined with tahini or sesame paste for the perfect hummus, or even simply soaked, ground and combined with various herbs and spices, then fried for falafel goodness. So, it must be garbanzo beans, right? Not even by a long shot. Simply think of the humble soybean.

The Bean
Both the wild Glycine soja and cultivated Glycine max are native to East Asia, with the Americas producing about 85 percent of the planet’s soybean, led by the U.S. with about 35 percent. By comparison, China only produces a little over three percent of the soybean crop. Of course, this dominance in the agricultural market as a food and commodity comes with a price, as most soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified to be resistant to that ubiquitous glyphosate-containing herbicide in the white spray bottle, which boosts production.

As a food, soybeans are valuable due to their high protein content — almost double compared to other legumes. They also are very versatile in a wide range of cooking applications, whether consumed as is, fermented, dried and ground or pressed. They also potentially have some additional health benefits, whether due to the isoflavones genistein and daidzein, the sterol surfactant saponin or whether additional soy in the diet simply reduces your consumption of fat laden animal proteins, the evidence is sufficient that the FDA allows the statement that 25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease on the labeling of soy-based products. It’s like Cheerios in a bean.

Dried soybeans. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Liquid Soy
Though the first liquid soy product that usually comes to mind is soymilk, I won’t dwell on this vegan milk substitute as I already highlighted various applications using soymilk at last year’s Soy and Tofu Festival. The liquid I’m highlighting is that umami-laden seasoning no Asian chef can live without, shoyu. Created simply from soybeans, wheat, salt and Aspergillus fungus, soy sauce was created well over 2,000 years ago in China during the Western Han Dynasty. Chinese Buddhist monks introduced it to Japan sometime in the seventh century. The basic procedure for making shoyu usually involves soaked then cooked soybeans being added to roasted and crushed wheat. Next, the mixture is mixed with a koji mold starter of Aspergillus as well as Saccharomyces yeast and Bacillus and Lactobacillus bacteria. This cultured mixture of soybeans, wheat and microorganisms are then mixed with salt and left to ferment. Eventually, the Aspergillus breaks down proteins in the beans to amino acids and starch in the wheat to sugars. The amino acids and sugars react, giving shoyu its characteristic dark color. The Saccharomyces creates ethanol, which further breaks down to other flavor agents, while the Bacillus and Lactobacillus creates acids and other flavor agents. Eventually, this whole fermented mash is filtered and either aged or bottled for sale. The five main varieties of Japanese shoyu include koikuchi, which is the standard variety; usukuchi — which is saltier but lighter in color due to the use of amazake or fermented rice water; tamari which primarily uses soybeans and very little or no wheat at all, and has a richer flavor than koikuchi; shiro, which primarily uses wheat with very little soybean for a lighter and sweeter flavor; and saishikomi or twice brewed using koikuchi shoyu as the brine so it’s the darkest and boldest flavored shoyu. Since I hail from the 50th, I always have a large bottle of Aloha Shoyu, which is created from acid-hydrolyzed soy protein instead of the traditional fermented method, but I use it just for marinades. I also keep a bottle of traditional koikuchi and shiro in my refrigerator, the darker where stronger flavors predominate and the shiro for delicate seafoods.

Soy Paste
Like shoyu, miso is simply created with soaked and cooked soybeans, koji starter and salt. Unlike shoyu, grains other than wheat can be mixed into the fermenting mash including barley, rye, millet, buckwheat, rice and even hemp seed. And as you already know, miso isn’t bottled as a liquid but sold as a paste. The two predominant forms of miso are shiromiso or white miso which is the most common type of miso using barley and rice with a smaller quantity of soybeans resulting in a lighter, sweeter miso and akamiso or red miso, which is aged for up to a year or more which causes a chemical reaction (Maillard reaction) of the amino acids and sugars giving the resulting paste a reddish or even black coloration. Therefore, akamiso usually has a stronger, robust flavor and greater umami qualities.

I use the stronger flavored akamiso with heartier dishes like my smoked natto-mus and the shiromiso for lighter dishes or for a miso marinade. Since I enjoy misoyaki butterfish like any Asian diner, I decided to take it one step future by making the traditional su-miso with sugar, sake, mirin, rice wine vinegar and shiromiso, but instead of marinating then grilling the fish, simply wiped off the miso mixture after an overnight marination then sliced it and enjoyed it sashimi-style. It takes miso butterfish or salmon to new heights! Dipped in a little shiro shoyu served with a daiginjo sake … Oishikatta!

I also “marinate” cream cheese in the same miso mixture minus the rice wine vinegar, which I learned from a Vintage Cave Club sushi chef. He lightly spread some of his miso cream cheese between lightly smoked daikon. It was so good, I had to beg him for the recipe!

The Meat Imposter
Since we’re well into summer with the usual grillin’ and chillin’, what if you have guests who are vegetarian or vegan. Well, you can purchase pre-packaged soy-based sausages, “burger” patties or other animal-free products at the supermarket. Or you can be the consummate host and create your own.

Soybean Patties
1 & 1/2 cups dried soybeans
1/2 cup shoyu
3 cups water
1/2 cup awamori or sake
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp shiso furikake
2 tsp Hon Dashi (or konbu dashi for vegan consumption)
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Soyburger. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Place all of the ingredients in a pressure cooker and cook on low pressure for one hour. Drain and rinse cooked soybeans.

1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp olive or macadamia nut oil
1/2 cup roughly chopped green onions
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
3 egg whites (or 1/3 cup bread crumbs for vegan consumption)
1 tbsp shiso furikake
Fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste.

Mix the drained and cooled soybeans along with the rest of the ingredients in a food processor — my seven-cup model strained with this amount so you’ll probably need a larger sized food processor.

Grab tennis ball-sized lumps of the mixture and press into roughly four-inch round patties. Place on a half sheet pan lined with either parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes, then gently flip and continue for another 20 minutes. Serve and garnish like traditional hamburgers.

And at the end of the month, you can attend the ninth annual Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival at the Event Center at St Mary’s Cathedral on June 29 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. featuring the Soy and Tofu Dessert Competition, cooking demonstrations throughout the day, food and artisan vendors, live entertainment along with the Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max and the Frozen Kuhsterd food trucks all to benefit the Nichi Bei Foundation. An afternoon filled with soy and tofu education, food products and entertainment all for a worthy cause!

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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